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Does Toughness Win Games? Studying Correlation Between Hustle Plays and Winning College Basketball Programs

Servant leadership has become a popular phrase used in the professional world in recent years. Many organizations are looking to hire and employ people who exemplify servant leadership because these people will likely be productive employees. Robert K. Greenleaf defines servant leadership as a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. Which is different from traditional leadership where the leader's main focus is the thriving of their company or organizations.2 Someone who is a successful servant leader puts their own ego, desires, and ambition on the backburner in order to fill any role necessary for a team or group of people. In athletics, the greatest teammates are also servant leaders. Servant-leadership presents itself in many ways in sport, but another example is through an athletes on-court performance or the way they play. Servant-leadership is embodied in making a hustle play on the basketball court. A player giving up their body for the betterment of the team is a true act of serving. When there is a team full of players that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team, that team is likely going to be successful.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not toughness wins basketball games. The term toughness is relative, but the way that basketball coaches measure it is not. Five NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Programs within the top-ten in overall standings were selected, along with five programs from the bottom of the standings. The teams will remain unnamed to ensure no team is affected negatively by this report. Upon selection of these teams, roughly eighteen hours of game film was reviewed from synergy sports technology, a website that compiles advanced sports analytics by way of film dissection. The following four statistics were recorded for all ten teams:

  1. Deflections
  2. Loose Balls Won
  3. Charges Taken
  4. Team Huddles

These four types of statistics were chosen for various reasons. According to the results compiled by the NBA Analytical Department – Deflections, Loose Balls Won, and Charges Taken are three of the actions of interest that are taken into account during every NBA Game. According to NBA Data compiled throughout the 2017-18 season, Loose Balls Won is the biggest hustle stat indicator of whether a team will win or lose – with the team who has more Loose Balls Won winning 60% of the time.1 Adding team huddles was a decision that was made based on various coaches preaching team togetherness and that nothing is a better indicator of team togetherness than how quickly/often a team huddles. Each time a team records one of these ‘hustle plays’ they are awarded a point. At the end of the game, all the points are combined for a total number of points. The statistics recorded in each game were kept to compare to the larger set of data.

The results of this study (granted it being a small sample size) provide an insight into whether or not hustle stats and toughness (which show a display of servant leadership) impact the outcome of a small college basketball game.

The five teams within the top-ten in the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball Standings had individual team records of 30-4, 29-4, 30-5, 29-6, 30-7. The five teams along the bottom of the standings had individual team records of 1-29, 3-22, 3-22, 4-23, 5-25. A rough sample of what a statistical comparison between teams would look like is pictured below:

Date of Game: 3-6-19

Final Score: 106-85

Home Team (team in top 10): Anonymous

Deflections: 5

Loose Balls Won: 2

Charges Taken: 5

Team Huddles: 25

Visiting Team (team in top 10): Anonymous

Deflections: 9

Loose Balls Won: 0

Charges Taken: 1

Team Huddles: 8

In this example, the home team would record 37 ‘points’, and the away team would record 18. As you can see, the home team is the team we are truly focused on, as they are one of the five teams selected from the top ten.

According to the data collected, the averages of the best and worst teams ‘hustle stats’ were averaged out and compiled in the table below:

Top Five Teams

Deflections (avg.): 4.2/game

Loose Balls Won (avg.): 3/game

Charges Taken (avg.): 2.4/game

Team Huddles (avg.): 17.8/game

Total Points (avg.): 22.6/game

Bottom Five Teams

Deflections (avg.): 2.2/game

Loose Balls Won (avg.): 2.2/game

Charges Taken (avg.): 0.2/game

Team Huddles (avg.): 0/game

Total Points (avg.): 4.6/game

The data set is quite staggering when looking at the total number of hustle points per game, and the difference between the top and bottom teams in this division. Obviously, the Team Huddles stat may have swayed the data to be a bit misleading, but many coaches might say that the disparities in the number of huddles show how vastly different good and bad teams are. When you have a team full of servant leaders that want what is best for the team and not just themselves it makes a large difference, a team huddling is an example of how they communicate with each other, care for one another, etc. Even if you take away the huddles, the top teams are still beating out the bottom teams in hustle points twice over.

In conclusion, the results provide some insight into what goes into creating a successful team/culture. Whether it is on the court or in an office setting, it is important to have servant-leaders on your team that are willing to put others before themselves. When this behavior radiates throughout your entire team, special things can happen and these groups can achieve amazing things. Do hustle plays win games? The data would answer a resounding yes, but with that being said, before there is a team that makes hustle plays, there first must be an environment that fosters teamwork, sacrifice, and love for what you do. That is what allows servant-leaders to truly grow and blossom.

1 Beech, R. (2018). Do the NBA Hustle Stats Matter? Retrieved from website.

2 Greenleaf, Robert. What is Servant Leadership? (n.d.). Retrieved from website.

3 Gucciardi, D., & Gordon, S. (2013). Mental toughness in sport: Developments in theory and research. Abingdon, Oxon: New York.

4 USAB, How to Develop Mental Toughness on the Court. (2011, August 29). Retrieved from website.

5 Witz, B. (2014, March 25). College Basketball Data Aplenty for Those Who Can Afford It. Retrieved from website.


About the author

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Tyler Peterson just finished his second season as the Graduate Assistant Coach for the University of Jamestown Men’s Basketball Program. Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., Tyler spent the previous four years at Northland College (Wisconsin) as a player. Peterson graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. Peterson is pursuing his master’s degree in Arts of Leadership at the University of Jamestown.

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